Director: Roman Polanksi
Writers: Roman Polaski, Gerard Brach, David Stone
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneaux,
The story for Repulsion concerns a working girl named Carol. Carol works in Kensington, London as a manicurist. Making rich old ladies look good. Carol lives with her sister Helen in a small flat. But there is one problem; Carol suffers from a condition known as androphobia. She is afraid of men, and finds any sort of physical (or even social) contact with them repulsive. Men try to go out with her on dates, but she does everything in her power to refuse their offers. And when she does go out, she behaves in the most awkward fashion. She is physically and psychologically uncomfortable around men. Another problem comes when her sister Helen has an affair with a married man, and she can hear her sister having sex in the room next door. Helen’s lover becomes yet another reason for Carol to be uncomfortable in her own home. But, Helen and her lover are going on a vacation to Italy, and will leave the apartment at the care of Carol for a couple of days. It seems like finally, Carol will have peace in a male free environment. Will this isolation make Carol happy? Or will she sink deeper into her phobias?
Of course, you know the answer that question; she is going to sink deeper into her phobias. What I found interesting about this movie is how little by little you can notice that there is something kind of odd about Carol’s behavior. She does whatever she can to avoid a young mans advances, she goes out with him but doesn’t want to kiss him. She hates the fact that her sister allows her lover to stay over at their apartment. She spaces out at work, falling asleep while working, making mistakes. In the first half of the film, Roman Polanski in collaboration with actress Catherine Deneuve worked hard to make sure we understand that Carol is not really right in the head. On many scenes (actually practically the whole movie) Deneuve blankly stares into the void, her thoughts drifting away into her own private world. While the films first half gives us little hints of Carol’s dementia, it isn’t until the films second half - when Carol’s sister decides to go on vacation with her lover- that the movie really dives into Carol’s decent into madness; for she is left all alone to fight with the demons of her mind.
One of the things that makes Repulsion a special film is its direction. Polanski focuses on the strangest things, and uses the weirdest angles to let us know that Carol is nuts. She will stare at something for long periods of time, and Polanski will let us see what she is looking at, and in a strange way, because the way the scene is illuminated or the angles that Polanski decides to use, we feel Carol’s insanity. It’s all about the strange and unconventional camera angles. Polanski really squeezed a great performance out of Deneuve. Reportedly, Polanski pushed Deneuve’s buttons during filming so that her anger and fury would be reflected on her performance, and it did.
Catherine Deneuve has the responsibility of carrying a large part of this film on her shoulders because for most of the running time, it’s just her, alone in her apartment with her hallucinations and nightmares. Her visions include hands coming out of walls to grab her, people raping her and walls cracking and turning into silly putty. I liked how the disorder in the apartment is representative of her mental state. The cracks that appear in the walls represent her fractured psyche, and her sexual nightmares represent her repressions. In this apartment everything symbolizes something about Carol’s decomposing mental state. This is a technique that has been used in many films that imitate Repulsion, for example Lucky McKee’s May (2002) and David Koepp’s Secret Window (2004) starring Johnny Depp. These are films on which the character’s home represent the way they are feeling or thinking. In Repulsion, we see decaying food, we see a bath tub overflowing, we see walls cracking, all of which let us know that Carol is definitely cracking up.
The film was shot on black and white, which gives everything a grimier dirtier look. Polanski wanted to capture the life of two working girls that live bordering on poverty and survival. I thought the film captures this sort of desperation that the working class can live through. It caught the desperation of the working class to pay the rent, to not be late for work, to live life at a frenetic pase. It also captures the claustrophobia that you can feel when living in a small apartment. By the way, Repulsion along with Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976) compose what is known as Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”, three films that all take place mostly within the confinements of a small apartment.
In conclusion, this is one of the best “decent into madness” movies I have ever seen. It shows us a character which slowly disintegrates until by the end of the film, she is an uncontrollable mess of a person. A wreck of a human being, not at all in control of her actions. It has some really stylish direction from Roman Polanski and I would highly recommend it to lovers of horror and psychological thrillers. One of Polanski’s best films.
Rating: 5 out of 5